Becoming a bigot

Resisting the ‘fusionism’ that brought together diverse conservatives as the force in U.S. politics that we see today, Richard J. Birshirjian writes “that construction of conservatism by Frank Meyer is an ideology, a making of abstractions that are imposed on reality rather than a reflection of our conservative folkways.”[1] It’s a useful warning. Bishirjian happens to be right about this and my dissertation will entail an exploration of some very real differences among conservatives.

It’s also an interesting warning in that conservatives generally privilege ideology of one sort or the other, be it Richard Weaver’s ‘metaphysical dream,’[2] neoliberalism,[3] or the Christianity of, especially, social and traditionalist conservatives.

There is, as well, the passage usually attributed to a neoconservative sentiment, but whose author, Ron Suskind, wove into an account of George W. Bush’s profoundly social conservative messianic decision-making style:

The aide said that guys like me [Suskind] were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”[4]

I’m a human scientist. I understand that people have their own realities. As Edgar Morin put it,

Why do we continue to see human beings solely in terms of their social or professional status, their standard of living, their age, gender or however else they figure in opinion polls? Every human being, even the most anonymous, is a veritable cosmos. Not only because the swarm of interactions in her brain is larger than all the interactions among stellar bodies in the cosmos, but also because she harbors within herself a fabulous and unknown world.[5]

But just as surely as we have our own realities, we must not impose them on others. For to do so is to impose one’s own reality on another, denying that person’s own reality, and forcing her or him to conform to one’s own. This is ultimately the same thing that underlies the colonial mindset that a particular society’s “reality” is the best “reality” for all people everywhere, a universalist formulation. That’s the arrogance that Suskind captures and it lies at the root of all rationalizations for oppression.

It doesn’t just show up with empire. I see this arrogance when atheists insist that the absence of scientific proof for a deity “proves” that such a deity does not exist. They go on to assert in complete confidence that depriving people of their faith would “free” them.

I see this arrogance with the faux-liberals of Sebastopol. As Chris Hedges wrote of such liberals more generally,

The Democrats and their liberal apologists are so oblivious to the profound personal and economic despair sweeping through this country that they think offering unemployed people the right to keep their unemployed children on their nonexistent health care policies is a step forward. They think that passing a jobs bill that will give tax credits to corporations is a rational response to an unemployment rate that is, in real terms, close to 20 percent. They think that making ordinary Americans, one in eight of whom depends on food stamps to eat, fork over trillions in taxpayer dollars to pay for the crimes of Wall Street and war is acceptable. They think that the refusal to save the estimated 2.4 million people who will be forced out of their homes by foreclosure this year [2010] is justified by the bloodless language of fiscal austerity. The message is clear. Laws do not apply to the power elite. Our government does not work. And the longer we stand by and do nothing, the longer we refuse to embrace and recognize the legitimate rage of the working class, the faster we will see our anemic democracy die.[6]

I see this arrogance when police insist that Eric Garner was complicit in his own death, a death by illegal chokehold over a trivial offense, when the president of a police union rejects the furor that has arisen over the tragedy, insisting, “What we did not hear is this: You cannot go out and break the law. What we did not hear is that you cannot resist arrest. That’s a crime.”[7]

As with that blind insistence on the rectitude of law and on the righteousness of enforcing law, I see this arrogance whenever people turn the need to see beyond the distinctions of race, gender, class, and just about anything else that can divide us, into a denial or a dismissal of those distinctions. In doing so, they substitute illusion for the very real subaltern experience of oppression. And this is to become an oppressor, a bigot, a racist, a sexist, a classist oneself.

This substitution of illusion, or more precisely, a preferred illusion for reality, the substitution of the way things ought to be for the way they are, is what Kwame Anthony Appiah called the naturalistic fallacy.[8] I don’t think conservatives have suffered all that much from Frank Meyer’s “fusionism;” rather their influence has grown immeasurably because of it. But in almost all other cases, this imposition of ideology is not about building alliances, but rather about constructing an excuse not to deal with real suffering.

It is about rationalizing oppression.

  1. [1]Richard J. Bishirjian, “Why I Am a Conservative,” First Principles, July 10, 2008, http://www.firstprinciplesjournal.com/articles.aspx?article=173
  2. [2]Sonja K. Foss, Karen A. Foss, and Robert Trapp, Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric, 3rd ed. (Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 2002).
  3. [3]Daniel Altman, Neoconomy: George Bush’s Revolutionary Gamble with America’s Future (New York: Public Affairs, 2004); Daniel Stedman Jones, Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2012).
  4. [4]Ron Suskind, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” New York Times, October 17, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html
  5. [5]Edgar Morin, On Complexity (Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 2008), 93.
  6. [6]Chris Hedges, “Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’?,” Truthdig, March 29, 2010, http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/is_america_yearning_for_fascism_20100329/
  7. [7]Tom Hays and Colleen Long, “Police: Chokehold Victim Complicit in Own Death,” ABC News, December 5, 2014, http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/police-cases-stir-national-protests-debate-27383589
  8. [8]Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in A World of Strangers (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006).

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